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Dec. 8 – American Dad! – “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls”

Original air date December 12, 2010.

It was just last year that we finally broke the seal on American Dad!. It surprised me how long I was able to avoid American Dad! year in and year out since it has a wealth of Christmas episodes at its disposal. Last year, the featured Christmas episode was the very first one the show did, “The Best Christmas Story Never Told.” This year, I’m skipping ahead to Season 7 (or 6, it’s confusing) and the fourth Christmas episode the show has done, “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls.” This episode had the distinction of being the only numbered entry in my Top 25 Christmas Specials from last year that had not been covered in some capacity on this blog. This year, I am rectifying that even if it means skipping over a couple of others, but that’s not a big deal because like most sitcoms there is no continuity from one episode to the next.

Except for this one! Actually, this episode is the beginning of a continuity in American Dad! that really only matters at Christmas. And that continuity concerns the Smith’s relationship with the big man in charge of the holiday. No, not Jesus, but Santa. This episode will show why Santa has a hatred for the Smith family and it’s a subject that will be revisited in subsequent Christmas episodes covering the old man’s death and even his resurrection. I think the last Christmas episode the show featured Santa in, “Santa Schmanta,” had him back to his old self at the end. The show doesn’t always do a Christmas special every year since it’s a TBS property that doesn’t always have anything airing around the holiday. Last year, the show was able to return to Christmas with “Yule. Tide. Repeat.,” and that was because they simply delayed airing the season finale three months so it would air in December.

I can’t believe this episode is more than 10 years old.

This Christmas episode happens to be my favorite from the show because it’s just over-the-top and ridiculous in a way that only American Dad! can get away with. Writer Erik Durbin wanted to make it bloody and referenced the movie 300, and he’s pretty much going to realize that dream. We’ve seen plenty of violent Christmas specials from places like Robot Chicken, but the violence is often used for just sheer shock value. Sure, there is definitely an element of that present in this episode as well, but it’s setup and earned over the duration of the show and most of the violence is reserved for the end. Plus, this show dares to imagine Santa as kind of a bad guy. He’s mostly just vengeful here (and with good reason), but the bad guy persona will be explored in greater detail and reinforced in the Christmas specials to come.

It cannot be overstated how much Stan hates Jeff.

The episode opens with the usual intro, only the title of the show is displayed in a candy cane font at the close and dissolved into a snowy sky. Stan (Seth MacFarlane) is in his living room and Jeff (Jeff Fischer) comes running downstairs to express his joy at the imminent arrival of Christmas. He expresses hope that Santa will bring him a polar bear helmet from the movie The Golden Compass and races outside to mail his letter to Santa. Stan is intensely annoyed with Jeff’s presence and thinks he’s an idiot for still believing in Santa Claus. Haley (Rachael MacFarlane) stands up for her husband and says his childlike innocence is one of the things that charms her, but she’s not winning Stan over who insists he will never accept Jeff as part of their family.

Nice clog, Francine.

When they leave they’re replaced by Francine (Wendy Schaal) who comes in carrying clogs. She is in search of a new family tradition and she thought the custom of filling clogs with presents was a good idea since Barbara Walters recommended it and she slept with a married, black, senator (“She doesn’t drive in the slow lane”). Stan doesn’t care as he’s excited about giving Steve his Christmas present this year: a gun. Francine is strongly against the idea of Steve having a gun, despite Stan’s protests that they’ve been unable to bond over anything else, and makes Stan promise not to give Steve a gun for Christmas.

Merry Wednesday!

We hard cut to Stan shouting “Merry Wednesday!” and presenting Steve (Scott Grimes) with a machinegun. Steve is a bit unsure if he’s ready for such an item, but his father’s insistence seems to be working. Jeff then pops into Steve’s room to enthusiastically declare that he’ll go shooting with Stan and Steve, much to Stan’s annoyance. He tells Jeff he can’t come since this is a father-son bonding thing and punctuates it by telling Jeff he’s not a part of their family. He closes his eyes and tells Jeff he wants him gone when he opens them. The camera shifts to Stan’s point-of-view as he opens his eyes and we see Jeff still standing there smiling like a dope.

Roger must go to great lengths to get drunk this Christmas.

The family alien Roger (MacFarlane) is out shopping for booze. He expresses to the clerk at a liquor store (Clancy Brown) that he needs something strong for his eggnog. When the clerk tells him most people use bourbon, Roger snaps at him with desperation in his voice that he can’t get drunk and needs something stronger. The clerk says he merely was checking to make sure and then leads Roger to the side of the counter and the two huddle down. He begins to tell Roger a tale about a legendary four-armed, nine foot tall, blind man who lives at the top of a nearby mountain, but has to stop his story when another patron interrupts them inquiring about seasonal beers. Roger tells him he’s ruining the story, and the guy goes away allowing the clerk to finish the story and present Roger with a special map leading to this man’s location. The customer then interrupts again to ask if the store sells watch batteries causing Roger to leap in the air, in slow motion, and slap the guy telling him to “Get out.”

Time to be a man, Steve.

Stan and Steve head off to try out Steve’s new gun. Stan gives him a lesson in handling a firearm describing it like making love to a woman, “First you inspect it to make sure she’s clean. Then, you grab her by the butt and jam the magazine in. If it doesn’t fit, make it!” Steve sets up to fire his new “toy” at some tin cans. When he fires the gun, he has little control over it and hits a nearby road sign causing a bullet to ricochet and strike Steve’s glasses, just like in A Christmas Story. He pleads with his dad that this isn’t safe, and Stan surprisingly agrees with him as he picks up the shot glasses.

Whoops…

We hard cut to a store parking lot, and Stan has just bought Steve safety goggles. Now they’re safe! He instructs Steve to take aim at a nearby snowman and Steve riddles the snow being with bullets. The snowman then starts to gush blood before falling apart to reveal a Santa had been standing behind it smoking a cigar and drinking a coffee. He’s filled with bullet holes and falls over face first into the bloody snow at his feet. Stan and Steve rush over with Steve freaking out about shooting a mall Santa. He then asks his dad, “Is he…?” and Stan interrupts him by finishing the question, “Is he dead?” by deadpanning that, yes, this guy is very dead. Stan casually loads the corpse into his car, while Steve continues to freak out. He assures him everything will be fine, they’ll just take him home and use Stan’s CIA resources to check his prints.

That won’t be necessary, Roger.

Roger reaches the top of the mountain the clerk instructed him to climb and finds an old, downed, airplane and a stereotypical redneck sitting on a porch outside the plane. Roger introduces himself and explains he’s looking for a nine foot tall, blind, moonshiner with four arms. When the man says he is the one he’s seeking, Roger is confused as he’s definitely not any of those things he expected him to be. The man has Roger take a sip of his shine and then Roger hallucinates the man into the creature he expected. He then introduces himself as Bob Todd (Erik Durbin) and goes into a long explanation of what people refer to him as. Roger politely endures this explanation from Robert Toddford Williams, then humbly requests to purchase some of his shine. When Bob Todd tells him he has no use for his money, Roger gets down on all fours preparing to pay for his booze in another fashion. When Bob Todd explains that he’ll teach Roger how to make it, he cheerfully hops back to his feet remarking “You had me in the palm of your hand there. In another second, it would have been the other way around!”

She’s right to be mad, Stan really should have put down some trash bags first or something.

At the Smith residence, Stan and Steve are preparing to head inside to check the fingerprints of the corpse when Francine arrives home. Stan instructs his son to act casual and compliments his wife on her appearance and Steve awkwardly follows suit. She’s flattered though, and the two head inside to check the CIA database. Stan can’t find anything on the guy, which puzzles him, and then gives an “Uh oh” as they look outside to see Francine has found the bloody mess of a Santa in the back of the family SUV.

Francine acts like someone who has done this before.

The family convenes in the living room and Francine expresses her displeasure with Stan. Steve starts crying about a boy shooting a man and his hysterics get Haley’s attention. She’s shocked to find out what happened and asks if anyone has called the police. It’s then Francine who says this isn’t going to ruin their Christmas and they’re all heading out to the woods to bury the corpse. We then cut to the family doing just that, and Francine is angry with the family for not letting her smash the guy’s teeth and cut off his hands. When they look at her with shock, she asks “Well you want to get away with murder or not?!”

Donkey Todd.

On top of the Chimdale mountains, Roger is ready to make some shine. He’s dressed like a hick in overalls and a crooked, bowl cut, wig and even has some janky teeth to go along with it. Bob Todd gives him a hit of the shine, and he morphs back into the mythical nine foot tall creature. The sequence of preparing moonshine is done-up like a game of Donkey Kong. Bob Todd chucks barrels and amusingly provides all of the sound effects, while Roger has to leap over them and get to the woman at the top of the still. He does, and gives her a big kiss only for the effects of the hallucination to ware off and reveal he’s smooching a raccoon. Bob Todd proclaims his training complete, for he has smooched the raccoon, and hands over some jugs and tells Roger to get to it.

Maybe that wasn’t your garden variety mall Santa.

Back at the Smith home, Stan is wrapping gifts in his study when he finds an elegant looking scroll with a message written on it, “I noel what you did in the woods.” We then see Francine preparing a turkey and she finds a scroll too, this one reads “Your goose is cooked.” Steve finds one by the fireplace that says “Your nuts will roast on an open fire,” while Haley has one stuffed in her bong that says, “THC you in Hell.” The family race to convene in the living room to show off what they found. As they wonder if they have a snitch in their midst, the television interrupts the family to provide some important plot details. A calendar salesman, who makes calendars featuring cats for lesbians, is asked what month it feels like and he says October as the Christmas cheer appears to have been sapped from the population. The reporter, Terry (Mike Barker), even punctuates it by suggesting it feels like someone killed Santa Claus.

They’re cute when they’re armed.

The family, now in a bit of a panic, decide they need to dig up the corpse and confirm if it’s Santa or not. They exhume it, only to find it’s empty except for the bloody remains of Santa’s suit. A note, not unlike the ones the Smiths already received, is left behind letting them know that Santa is pissed. As they stare in shock, an arrow whizzes past Stan’s head to lodge in a nearby tree. As they look up, they see an elf riding a reindeer armed with a bow and arrow. He laughs (Dee Bradley Baker) in a comical voice and tells them Santa can’t be killed. He’s home in the north pole recuperating, but he’ll have his revenge before dawn of Christmas morning. He then beckons to his reindeer, Mimsy, and the two fly off leaving the Smiths to comprehend what they just saw. We then see a quick scene from The North Pole of Mrs. Claus casually knitting while Santa is shown recuperating in a rejuvenation chamber of sorts.

Hick Roger is here to save the day!

Stan tries to dismiss the elf as the antics of a “midge,” but then the family uses the correct term of “little people” which is nice since they used the hurtful term in the prior special. The arrow dissolves into light though confirming once and for all that Steve did indeed fire upon the real Santa. As they wonder what to do, Roger appears still in his hick attire. He carries on the persona for a bit, then drops it as everyone seems confused. He tells them they can hide out in the mountains with him, then cracks a Deliverance joke at Ned Beatty’s (R.I.P.) expense.

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas Eve here?!

Atop the mountain, the family is introduced to Bob Todd who is happy to have guests for Christmas. As the sun goes down, the family heads inside to sing carols. The group looks setup to play carols jug-band style, and even seem excited about it, but the sound of sleigh bells startles them before they can begin. They open the door to see it’s just Jeff, driving up in his van. Stan is pissed at the sight of his hated son-in-law and Haley says she told him where they would be so they could spend Christmas together. Jeff enters the house and Stan angrily tells him to shut off the sleigh bell sounds coming from his van. When Jeff says his van isn’t making that noise, the family looks to the sky and sees Santa and his army descending upon them! As they fly towards the mountain summit, a metal version of “Carol of the Bells” by August Burns Red serves as the herald for Santa’s army.

He’s here!

Stan is now even more pissed at Jeff because it was he who wrote a letter to Santa telling him where they’d be so he knew where to deliver his present. Stan tells him to leave in hurtful terms insisting that Jeff is not, and will never be, a part of this family. The family doesn’t have time to get angry with Stan though as Bob Todd opens up a weapon’s locker and arms everyone. Steve is handed a gun and is unsure if he can ever touch one again, but it’s Francine who slaps him around and orders him to go outside and commit murder. He does as he’s told and takes the weapon, jamming the magazine into it as his father showed him earlier while referring to it as Linda. Stan, Steve, and Bob Todd then go out to defend the homestead while Haley and Francine are left to fire from the windows.

The Smith men finally found a way to bond.

Outside, the battle commences and Bob Todd apparently hates Santa. He calls him a butt licker, which is a strange insult coming from him because Bob Todd looks like the kind of guy plenty willing to go ass-to-mouth (probably with a raccoon), and starts blasting elves from the sky. Stan and Steve fire from behind a bunker and Steve questions his dad if it’s weird that he has a boner? Stan replies “It would be weird if you didn’t,” as the two, pretty cheerfully, lay waste to the reindeer and elves in a perverted bonding experience.

The perfect setting for some mother-daughter time.

Inside the hull of the downed plane that Bob Todd calls a home, Francine and Haley have a similar heart-to-heart about Jeff in between machinegun fire. Francine assures her daughter that her father will come around, eventually, it will just take some time. She references how long it took for him to adapt to Roger and adds “And the other one.” We hard cut to Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), the fish, in his fish bowl at home to basically acknowledge his lack of a part in this episode.

He told you that he’d be back again some day!

Outside, Bob Todd is chucking molotov cocktails and Santa’s minions unleash a behemoth snowman. Bob Todd blows it up with a full barrel of flaming moonshine, only for presents to burst from the corpse each one containing a miniature snowman ready to attack. Inside, the girls are out of ammo and Roger suggests they use these oversized candy canes he has as weapons, they just need to sharpen them with their mouth first. All three suck the end of the candy cane, and Haley is the first to produce a pointy tip. Roger compliments her on her ability to do so while Francine struggles, but insists she can do it!

Nice to see Rudy make an appearance.

Jeff shows up behind Stan and Steve and asks if he can help. Stan tells him he can shield him from the arrows and die. Santa (Matt Mckenna) emerges from his sleigh and lights a cigar on Rudolph’s nose as he surveys the battlefield. He then calls out to Jeff telling him that he’s been a good boy and that he doesn’t need to die with the Smiths. Everything stops as everyone turns their attention to Jeff. Santa tells him he has the present he requested, the polar bear helmet from The Golden Compass, and urges Jeff to come stand by his side. Jeff quietly leaves Stan and Steve and walks towards Santa as Haley calls out to him urging him not to side with Santa. Stan tells her to let him go, using this act as a way to illustrate how Jeff was never a part of their family.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

Jeff receives his gift and happily puts it on his head as an elf smashes Stan in the back of the head with a club knocking him unconscious. Santa then grabs an ornate looking rifle and sets his sights on the unconscious Stan. Jeff, wearing the spiked helmet he just received as a gift, apologizes to Santa for what he’s about to do and then rams his head into Santa’s kidney area. The fat man howls in pain and doubles over as Jeff races over to Stan and drags him into the house. Santa calls to his elves who immediately bandage his wounds with wrapping paper.

Now he’s bonding with his son-in-law, Stan is on a roll!

Inside the plane, Jeff takes Stan into the cockpit to tend to his wound. When Stan comes to with his head bandaged, he expresses his surprise at Jeff’s actions. He’s shocked that Jeff would do something like that for him, but Jeff corrects him that he didn’t do it for him, but Haley. He then tells Stan that he actually thinks he’s an ass, and Stan is impressed with him for the first time ever. He then tells Jeff that they should go out there and die as a family. They open the door to the cockpit and survey the carnage as their family tries to fight off a horde of tiny elves with a wholesome score behind them to celebrate this moment as a magical Christmas one. The two then join the fray as it appears the family will soon be overcome by Santa’s minions.

Now there’s a festive image!

Outside, Santa is puffing on his cigar when he notices the sun rising. He curses, then calls off the troops. They all retreat and fade away into Christmas dust as they apparently only had until dawn of Christmas Day to do the deed (I wonder who filled in for Santa all night with his regular job?). The family emerges, battered and bloody, from the home. Jeff remarks that this means he probably won’t be getting any more Christmas presents, and we hear the voice of Santa chime in, “You’re damn right you jerk!” Francine catches a note from Santa which contains a threat for next year. She’s actually delighted since it looks like her family has found a new Christmas tradition! We then hear from Bob Todd who survived the massacre. He drags over the corpse of a reindeer explaining how it tried to turn into dust, but he was having none of that. When Stan remarks he’ll get some nice venison out of that deer, Bob Todd tells the family he’s going to prepare a Christmas feast for them, but first he’s going to make sweet love to this reindeer corpse. He and the family wish us a “Merry Christmas!” as the camera zooms out to show the bloody aftermath.

The aftermath.

“For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” lives up to its promise of being a bloody, violent, Christmas special to the point that I’m surprised they didn’t opt for a pun with the title and use “slay” instead of “sleigh.” It’s almost an anti-special, since the family kills Santa and all, but it’s conclusion is pretty standard holiday fare as the Smiths learn the meaning of family. Family isn’t just blood, it can also be who you choose, and Stan finally accepts the fact that Jeff is married to his daughter and is indeed part of his family. And it does put an end to some of the venom from Stan that he reserved for Jeff previously, though he’s still allowed to think of him as an idiot. I like the natural setup of the episode with Stan attempting a last ditch effort to bond with his son over guns, and that leading to the tragedy of Steve accidentally murdering Santa (though I described it as an accident, I can’t overlook that he did willingly fire a machinegun in a crowded parking lot and chances are he was going to kill or wound someone in the process). There’s some great misdirection, from the reveal of Santa being shot, to Francine’s insistence on covering up the crime, and Jeff’s turn that are all quite funny. Another joke is rarely far away with this show as it’s often line after line of funny.

A new family tradition is born.

The violence is the star though as the last several minutes of the episode are devoted to a bloody battle of man and elf. There are numerous shots of reindeer getting shot out of the sky intercut with the expected Saving Private Ryan moments of limbless elves wandering among the fallen in a daze. Their search for their limb ended by another relentless volley of machinegun fire. The violence is juxtaposed with casual conversation from the family as they sort out their business adding to the humor, while Bob Todd is mostly allowed to just be a homicidal maniac. The portrayal of Santa as a vengeful blowhard is entertaining, but as I mentioned in the lead-in, we won’t really see a full-on villainous turn for years to come. Here he’s justified in hating Stan, and the whole family played a role in covering up their crime. You just wouldn’t expect the classic interpretation of Santa to be so bloodthirsty.

Merry Christmas from the Smiths!

The violence contained in this one obviously means it’s not a Christmas special for everyone. It’s not something I’d show my young kids at this juncture, but it is one that I get a laugh out of! Even though I’ve seen this one probably more times than any other American Dad! Christmas episode, it’s still the one I look forward to returning to each year the most. These days there are a lot of anti-Christmas specials, but this one might be the best.

If you’re looking forward to spending Christmas with the Smiths this year then you should have a few options at your disposal. The show is shown daily on Cartoon Network during its Adult Swim block and it will certainly air this, and a bunch of other Christmas episodes, this month. The show is also available to stream on Hulu and available to rent or own in various places. My advice is if you have a cable subscription just load-up the DVR with American Dad! Christmas episodes and have yourself a nice, festive, binge. It’s what I’ll be doing all month!


Dec. 4 – Family Guy – “Christmas Guy”

Original air date December 15, 2013

In the fall of 2013, beloved family dog, Brian, met his demise. Brian was an extraordinary dog capable of communicating in English with his family members who was often seen walking on two feet. Despite that though, he met a rather ordinary end for a dog when he was unceremoniously struck by an automobile. Life goes on though, and the Griffin family to which he belonged turned to a new dog: Vinny. Like Brian, Vinny was a remarkable specimen as he too could speak English and chose to walk on two legs, plus he functioned as an Italian stereotype and even appeared to have connections to the underworld. The audience latched onto Vinny, and while no one could replace Brian, we all accepted that these things happen and the best thing we can do for Brian is to never forget him.

Of course, that was all bullshit. No one cared about Vinny and Brian Griffin was as unlikable as basically every other member of the Griffin family at the time of his death. And these deaths never stick, so no one was surprised when the show brought Brian back a mere two episodes later as part of Family Guy’s Christmas episode that year.

This episode takes place during the short-lived Vinny era

Brian Griffin had once been one of the few voices of reason on Family Guy. Despite the fact that he was a dog, he seemed like the most real of any of the Griffin family and many of his problems seemed to stem from the fact that he existed in this unreal world. He seemed to deal with the craziness of being Peter Griffin’s dog with booze and therapy and he seemed to delight in needling the youngest member of the family, Stewie, who was always threatening to kill someone or take over the world, but Brian saw through his bullshit. The two were foils and didn’t seem to really like each other, which is partly what made their team-up episodes, like “The Road to Rhode Island,” so successful.

After Family Guy’s cancellation and return to television, Brian underwent a change. Instead of being the voice of reason, he was made a narcissist who manipulated women and was happy to stand on a soap box and lecture folks on things he had no business speaking on. He took on the role of uninformed liberal capable of regurgitating popular talking points with no subtext. In short, he became insufferable as basically every character on the show took this route, just via different means.

In a show basically devoid of charm (and that’s by design), about the only charming aspect would become the Stewie and Brian relationship. Once adversaries, the pair are now best friends. They understand each other and accept each other’s deficiencies. Their relationship seemed to be solidified in the Season 8 episode “Brian & Stewie” in which the two get trapped in a bank vault over a weekend. Since then, not only is Brian Stewie’s best friend, he’s probably a better father to him than Peter and there’s genuine warmth between the two. This being Family Guy though, their relationship can’t just be sweet so the writers also added a weird subtext where Stewie appears to desire sex with Brian. Why can’t we just have nice things?

I have long since ceased to care about Family Guy as it’s not a show I particularly enjoy. It is a frequent contributor to Christmas though, and “Christmas Guy” felt like an episode worth revisiting. We get to relive the era of Vinny and a story about a baby just wanting to get his best friend back for Christmas is certainly a sweet way to approach the holiday. And it should be better, and definitely shorter, than the other major Brian and Stewie Christmas story “The Road to the North Pole.”

They’re getting ready to celebrate Stewie’s “first” Christmas.

The episode begins with a lovely exterior shot of the Griffin house covered in snow and all decorated for Christmas. Given how inept Peter (Seth MacFarlane) is at virtually everything, I am amazed at how well the decorations look. Maybe that’s just the one thing he’s good at? The family is inside watching television and it’s a version of Home Alone with capable robbers. It’s an observational piece where the robbers enter a house and immediately take note of things like toy cars on the floor and frozen stairs so as to avoid them. When the Kevin character appears at the top of the stairs, they just shoot him and he tumbles down the stairs, dead. We then find out that the family is gearing up for the annual Christmas Carnival that takes place at the mall. Lois (Alex Borstein) is particularly thrilled about celebrating Stewie’s (MacFarlane) first Christmas by sharing the carnival with him. Upon saying that, Stewie says “Again?” which is a clever way for the show to acknowledge that no one ages. I think the one-year-old Stewie has celebrated Christmas a dozen times at this point. This also sets up an awful cut-away joke about how Peter enjoys teasing the clerk at Tiffany’s into thinking he’s actually going to buy something. The joke is that no one in their right mind would believe Peter because he showed up wearing Sbarro wrappers for shoes.

Stewie and Vinny were able to form a fast bond in Brian’s absence.

An exterior shot of the mall lets us know the family has already made the short journey. Stewie is decked out in an elf costume and Vinny (Tony Sirico) makes a few comments on it causing Stewie to ask him if he only uses adjectives sarcastically. Vinny, predictably, responds with sarcasm. The family soon notices that there’s no Christmas Carnival, or really any sign of the holiday for that matter. Stewie suggests whoever is responsible will suffer for it and Vinny makes a smart comment that “tough don’t sell in curly-toed shoes.” Stewie suggests to Vinny that he go buy more cologne setting up another worthless, but at least brief, cut-away.

Lois approaches a security guard to inquire about what happened to the carnival. She addresses him as sir, and he tries to correct her by saying “officer,” but she puts him in his place with a “No, it’s sir, and barely sir.” After the guard hangs his head in shame, he explains he doesn’t know using the term small cog to describe his role in the decision making process. This prompts Chris (Seth Green) to comfort his father by saying “See dad, you’re not the only one with a small cog,” clearly referring to his dad’s penis. Both Lois and Peter respond in unison saying “I told you that in confidence!” so apparently husband and wife are both disappointed in the size of Peter’s penis.

SNL did it better.

Stewie then asks if Santa was killed by Muslims, intentionally mispronouncing the word Muslims. This sets up yet another cut-away as Peter declares he hates being disappointed. This one is Peter in a restaurant commenting on the quality of the coffee, only for the server to tell him it’s Folger’s and call him an idiot for liking it. There’s a tag at the end about how Folger’s is only worth drinking if you’ve been tricked into it. I’ll give them a little credit here as when I saw the joke setup I thought they were just going to have Peter play Chris Farley’s character from the same bit on Saturday Night Live.

It just wouldn’t be a Family Guy Christmas without a little Meg torture.

We’re shown another exterior shot of the Griffin house only it’s nighttime now. Peter and Lois are in bed discussing the events of the day. Lois is worried about Stewie as he seemed so disappointed in the carnival’s cancellation. She remarks he’s been acting out all week and Peter brushes off her concerns with a “He’s a baby, how bad can he be?” We’re then shown the family seated for a meal and Stewie is loosening the cap on the salt shaker. Meg (Mila Kunis) takes it and goes to sprinkle some salt on her food only for the top to fall off completely and out pops a giant snake! It bites her and she instantly swells up to gargantuan size.

We change scenes, and get this, there’s another exterior shot of the Griffin’s house to mark the change! Back to daytime, and the family is once again watching TV so we get another Christmas movie parody joke. This time, it’s Miracle on 134th Street and a guy is shown running to his car in a panic because he left his phone in it. The miracle, and the joke, is that the car has been left undisturbed and his phone is fine. Vinny then enters to say he talked to a bunch of guys and a girl (allowing for him to be casually misogynistic) and found out that the mall’s owner cancelled the carnival and he is none other than Carter Pewterschmidt, Lois’s father. Vinny is then shocked at this twist letting out an exaggerated “Oh!” He then takes his leave as he has to get the “Ohs” out as he keeps saying it over and over. Off camera, we hear them gradually decrease in intensity.

Peter resolves to dealing with Carter, but first has to ask Lois if he’s The Little Caesar’s guy. She responds in a manner that suggests this is a frequent question from Peter and he’s relieved to know that Carter is not, in fact, The Little Caesar’s guy. He then likens Carter’s attitude towards Christmas to a gluten-free Santa, setting up yet another cut-away of a Santa waking a kid up in the middle of the night to ask about what the cookies were made out of. It’s yet another dud of a joke.

Peter and Carter do have an odd chemistry when paired-up.

We then setup the next scene with an exterior shot of Pewterschmidt Industries. Carter (MacFarlane) is seated at his desk filling out some paperwork only pausing to flip off the window washer outside because he dared to make a sound. His secretary then calls to tell him the guy who’s face is on all the money is here to see him and Carter hastily cleans up his papers and welcomes the obvious fake in. It’s Peter, who demands Carter bring back the Christmas Carnival! Carter declines telling Peter he hates Christmas because everyone assumes a rich guy like him will give them expensive presents while giving him nothing in return. Peter vows to return Carter’s Christmas spirit to him and then asks if he can take something home with him from his office. Carter tells him no, and he replies with an “Aww, too bad, because I was gonna pick you!” Carter then confirms that Peter is a weird guy.

Stewie, up to his old tricks.

Exterior shot of the Griffin house! This time, from a different angle though. Seriously guys, we don’t need to see an exterior shot of a building before every scene! Especially a familiar setting like the home of our main characters! Anyway, Peter is struggling to zip-up his coat and refusing Lois’s help because he’s a man-baby. Vinny is there to comment on how crappy it is to have a father who hates Christmas. He then goes off on a tangent about how his old man drowned in a bird bath thanks to a cop, but left directions to “Kick Jimmy in the sack. Go Eagles.” When Lois offers condolences, Vinny brushes them aside and tells everyone his dad was a scumbag. Lois and Peter then start discussing the issue at hand, but they’re in front of a window so obviously we’re supposed to ignore them and see what happens outside. Stewie appears, and he rips down the neighbor’s decorations and molests a snowman before apparently setting off a nuclear explosion that destroys everything in sight. Lois talking about her dad’s disgust towards Christmas leads to another cut-away, this time of Carter going down Santa’s chimney on June 16th in a “how do you like it?” joke. It’s not funny.

I seem to remember jokes at the expense of Carter’s balls in another Christmas episode.

We get another repeated exterior shot of the Griffin house. We didn’t even change settings this time! We’re still in the same place! Did they really need to kill this much time? Peter and Carter are in the kitchen and it’s not explained why Carter would bother coming over. Peter is trying to put Carter in the Christmas spirit by showing him how to write a Christmas letter. He informs Carter it’s acceptable to embellish, so Carter reads the letter and the embellishments are all ridiculous like Peter becoming the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Peter tells him to read what he wrote about him only to find out the only truthful thing in the letter is Peter noting that Carter bought a tiny stool for his balls. The camera zooms out so we can see the stool in use and Carter is pissed because he doesn’t want people to know that.

Now that’s unsettling.

We then get an exterior shot of a generic hotel and Peter and Carter are seated on a bed. Peter has a carton of eggnog and tells Carter this will put him in the holiday spirit. Cater tells Peter he hates eggnog, but Peter won’t take no for an answer. It then gets really uncomfortable as Peter forces the nog on Carter and it’s clear this is intended to be a parody of a sexual assault or violent, degrading, piece of pornography. Carter ends up covered in frothy, white, eggnog and Peter starts filming him and instructs him to degrade himself in various ways. It ends with Carter sitting up and telling Peter “You know, I still don’t like Christmas, but I kind of like what we just did.” Apparently, Carter has some odd kinks.

I bet you can’t guess what’s next! Exterior shot of the Griffin house! Peter and Carter are standing outside the bathroom and Peter tells Carter that Christmas is the one day a year where you masturbate like any other but then feel shame afterwards. He goes into the bathroom for a very short duration, and then comes out hanging his head sadly with his shirt untucked. Carter tells Peter that none of this is working and as he explains Vinny casually walks by causing Carter to interrupt his ranting to remark “Huh, different dog.” Peter confirms this and adds that he’s Italian or something too. Carter then goes back into his rant and Peter tells him he had no idea that Carter was Jewish. Carter, shocked at the suggestion, asks if that’s how he’s coming off and Peter confirms as much.

Carter Pewterschmidt: Not Jewish

Smash cut to the exterior of the mall only now it’s all decorated for Christmas! There’s even a giant banner promoting the carnival with Carter wrapping an arm around a seemingly uncaring Jesus. Inside, the place is fully decorated now and Peter is excited to see the Chinese carolers from A Christmas Story are there singing their rendition of “Deck the Halls.” Peter then tells the audience their beloved holiday classic is extremely racist, which is a gross exaggeration and ruins the observational joke. They could have just had Peter give a disapproving look or something and it would have been funnier.

Is there a sadder place to cry?

Vinny then asks Stewie what he’s going to ask Santa for Christmas. Stewie isn’t sure, but once he’s seated on Santa’s lap and faced with the question he looks to his family and the camera pans from each member and rests on an empty space beside Meg. Stewie then starts sobbing and tells Santa he just wants his friend back. When he explains in further detail, Santa deadpans “You want me to put a dead dog under your tree,” and it doesn’t come off like a question. Stewie confirms this, though immediately after he sees a kid walk by with his parents and a new bike and he adds “and I’d like a bike,” with a whimper.

Vinny’s interpretation of Brian.

After yet another exterior shot of the house, we see Stewie all alone watching television. It’s another holiday parody, A Year Without a Santa Claus or Sex and there’s just some uptight dad bitching to his kid about his wife being busy all of the time. Vinny then enters the picture wearing glasses and a sweater. When Stewie asks what he’s doing, he corrects him by saying he’s Brian and does an Italian version of Brian’s “catchphrase” of “Whose leg do you have to hump to get a dry martini around here?” Stewie is not impressed, but Vinny says he put a lot of thought into this gimmick by reading up on politics and even outlining his own novel “Wish it. Want it. You blew it.” He reads some of it to Stewie and it’s just another vessel for Italian stereotypes that goes on too long. He then tries to cheer Stewie up with an early Christmas present, but the box contains a severed foot. Vinny says that was supposed to go to someone else, and we cut to a group of gangster types getting ready to celebrate the death of Johnny the Foot something, only their gift contains a train. They then go into a schtick of trying to figure out who the train refers to getting more and more specific and it just goes on and on and is never funny.

Vinny then gives Stewie his real gift which is a bowling shirt. Vinny says it’s a versatile garment that can be worn for any occasion, as long as it’s at the beach or adjacent to a beach, but Stewie seems unimpressed. Vinny then decides they should head to the toy store where Stewie can pick something out for himself. They do just that and Stewie is still in a mood since the toy store before Christmas is usually picked over. Vinny tries cheering him up by pointing out there’s tons of good stuff and demonstrates with some bronze, sheep, bookends that shine a sad light on Vinny’s childhood.

Yeah, there isn’t much mystery here.

Stewie soon notices someone familiar in the store. He follows the kid only to realize it’s him! Vinny is angry and hungry, so he goes to punch a sandwich while Stewie investigates further. Vinny then returns with a black eye and an angry, personified, sandwich. Stewie asks Vinny for his help, but he’s not really sure what he’s after. When Stewie says he needs help stealing something Vinny is suddenly all-in. Stewie explains the other Stewie is him from the past. He time-traveled to the future to get a new Jolly Farm game he couldn’t wait for. Stewie asks Vinny to distract him so he can steal the time travel device in the other Stewie’s backpack. Vinny assures him he knows just how to distract another Stewie.

Work it, Stewie!

Vinny then intercepts Stewie after he’s made his purchase. He asks the past Stewie if he’s ever done any modeling, and Stewie says “not professionally” clearly ignoring the events of the episode “The Son Also Draws.” Vinny continues to butter him up and Stewie actually starts stripping away layers as he poses allowing for the current Stewie to steal the time travel device from the backpack. He retreats to a storeroom and Vinny soon appears telling him he should probably hurry up as the other Stewie is changing into tap shoes for some reason. Stewie explains he intends to travel back in time to save Brian, causing him to realize this will undo his family adopting Vinny. Vinny, now realizing he was duped into helping Stewie significantly alter his life for the worse, seems a bit sad at first, but then lightens the mood by saying “Hey, I’m man’s best friend, not some stupid baby’s!” He gives Stewie a smile and then sits like a traditional dog would allowing Stewie to pat him on the head and assure him he’s a been a good dog (I do love it when the dog characters on this show behave like actual dogs for brief moments). Vinny then stands and announces to a Georgette that he’s coming home and walks out of the scene causing Stewie to ask aloud to himself “Who the hell is Georgette?”

A genuine moment of sweetness for Family Guy.

Stewie then hops on the time travel device and we’re taken back to the past with no establishing shot – it’s a Christmas miracle! Stewie and Brian are setting up their street hockey game and Stewie realizes he forgot his kneepads inside. He awkwardly informs Brian of this suggesting he was using them for some depraved sex act, before running inside. Future Stewie then appears and as the car destined to kill Brian screams around the corner, Stewie is able to tackle Brian and spare him. He then starts celebrating Brian’s un-death, which confuses Brian. Stewie goes on to explain he traveled from the future to save him, for when Brian died a little piece of him died as well. Brian is still confused since he just witnessed Stewie destroy his time machine, but Stewie explains how he ran into a past version of himself in the future which reminds him that he needs to send the time device back. We then see Past Stewie angrily waiting in the toy store as he says aloud to himself he’s starting to think Vinny wasn’t a real modeling agent. He then makes it creepy by adding “and I don’t think that other guy was a real Penis-Butt Inspector!”

So long, Future Stewie.

As Stewie finishes his explanation to Brian, he starts to fade away. By changing the past, he’s erased his own timeline. He’s not sad though, but rather happy to have saved Brian. His “dying” words are “Merry Christmas, Brian,” which must be a little confusing to Brian since I don’t think they’re near Christmas in his timeline. Right as he vanishes though, the now present Stewie returns (conveniently with a new hockey stick after the ones he set down in the road were run over) and asks Brian who he was talking to. Brian replies, “A pretty awesome guy,” with a warm smile, only for Stewie to mock him by suggesting he marry the guy. He punctuates the jab by hitting Brian in the balls with his hockey stick and then does circles around his writhing body chanting “Stew-S-A” over and over.

Right in the balls.

A final exterior shot of a snowy Griffin house ushers in our final scene. The family is celebrating Christmas by opening their presents. Chris got some oven mitts and an unfunny joke is attached to it. Brian then gives Stewie his Christmas present and it’s a picture of the two of them in Christmas attire with the caption “Friends Forever” underneath. Stewie tells him it’s wonderful, and Brian informs him that Stewie gave him the greatest gift of all and that he’ll elaborate further some day. Stewie then looks concerned and questions Brian if they’re pregnant? Brian corrects him, but then adds that Stewie’s his best friend and he tells him he loves him. Stewie begins to respond warmly, but then gets stern and informs Brian that he’s been making creepy eye contact with him all morning and that he wants it to stop! Smash cut to credits!

Stewie’s gift.

Well, that was a mostly unfunny romp through the Christmas season with some genuine sentimentality tacked on at the end. The episode was a rather unique setup for Family Guy as it was like two, distinct, stories that occurred consecutively rather than at the same time like a traditional A and B plot. We had the first half of the episode which was devoted to Peter trying to get Carter into the Christmas spirit, and then the second half which was all about bringing Brian back. If the writers were just trying to disguise the fact that they wanted to resurrect Brian for Christmas then they did a good job as the episode did not point in that direction at all, until Stewie climbed onto the mall Santa’s lap with less than 10 minutes remaining. Stewie’s grief was handled well though and I did like his interactions with both Vinny and Brian. This being Family Guy, they found ways to punctuate those tender moments with jokes. They didn’t always land (like the weird sandwich bit), but they didn’t take away from the moment, but rather just cut out some of the overripe sweetness of those moments. I did like how they teed up a warm closing scene only for Brian to just completely botch it which felt like the right note for a Family Guy Christmas episode to end on.

Aside from that though, the first half of the episode was a real slog. Almost none of the observational humor Family Guy strives for really landed, but they sure kept trying! The Home Alone parody was all right, but the others were lame. The eggnog scene was gross for multiple reasons, and none of the cut-away jokes accomplished anything aside from eating up time. And what is up with the need for exterior shots before every scene?! The Griffin house did look nice, but I didn’t need to see the same shot over and over! The only thing I did like was Carter finally coming around on Christmas because he was afraid of people mistaking him for a Jew.

In the end, this was a somewhat sweet story about a kid and his dog.

This Christmas episode of Family Guy ends up being memorable because it’s the episode where the show brought Brian back, even though he hadn’t been gone very long. Only one episode separates this one and “Life of Brian,” his death episode, so it’s easy to question if the show didn’t let Brian stay dead long enough to really sell the gag. It’s also Family Guy though and no one watches it for anything more than a sequence of jokes. The actual characters are rarely of any importance. Were fans happy to have Brian back? Did they like Vinny? Did they even care he died? I don’t know, but I do think it was a fun storyline to run with and they wrote themselves a nice out of Brian’s death. Aside from that detail though, this isn’t much good. You’re still better off with watching the inaugural Christmas episode from Family Guy if you must, and I think I enjoyed the Patrick Swayze one more that we looked at a couple of years ago.

If you want to watch “Christmas Guy” this holiday season it should be relatively easy to track down. I think. Adult Swim used to air every Christmas episode from the show this month, probably more than once, but lost the rights to air Family Guy this year so now it’s on the Disney family of channels. I’m assuming channels like FXX will schedule the Christmas episodes like they do for The Simpsons, but it is a bit of an unknown. The show is available on DVD and to stream as part of Hulu, which is probably the easiest way to watch it. If you enjoy Family Guy, and it’s fine to do so, then you probably like this one more than I do and will enjoy it. If you’re someone who does not care for Family Guy then you’ll likely hate this so seek holiday cheer from other sources.


Dec. 1 – American Dad! – “The Best Christmas Story Never Told”

img_1104Oh hell yeah, it’s time for Christmas posts! Welcome back for the year 2020 as The Christmas Spot comes at you with 25 days of Christmas posts! 2020 has been a crazy year with a lot of new normals tossed our way, but at least each year the calendar gets turned over to Christmas and for close to one month things seem consistent with prior years. And like year’s past, we’re turning this place into an advent calendar and looking at 25 festive topics. Most of which will be like this one, a write-up of a beloved or not so beloved Christmas television special. It may be one from the past, or it may be relatively current, but one thing is certain and that’s it will be Christmas. I have nothing against the other seasonal holidays occurring around this time, it’s just that Christmas is my jam and I want to share my enthusiasm with all of you.

For this year, we’re turning things over to an animated sitcom that has become fairly reliable when it comes to Christmas. American Dad! premiered after the Super Bowl in 2005 and immediately found itself in the shadow of Family Guy. That’s because the show is co-created by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and at the time it premiered it was being billed as the Family Guy replacement. This was during the hiatus for Family Guy following its cancellation, though the show would eventually return. As such, it felt like many Family Guy fans were immediately dismissive of American Dad! because it wasn’t the show they wanted. They wanted more Family Guy, not an imitation. You would think things would improve following the revival of Family Guy, but instead fans of that show once again seemed to look down on American Dad! as now that their beloved show had returned, what need of this new one did anyone have?

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Like Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers, American Dad! has become a reliable source for Christmas specials over the years.

Which was unfortunate, because American Dad! had very little in common with Family Guy. I suppose it resembled Season One of Family Guy to a point as both shows were influenced by the classic sitcom All in the Family. While Family Guy only borrowed from that show a little, American Dad! was practically a reimagining of that program in animated form. The show was co-created by eventual show-runners Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman and once the pilot was basically sold to Fox, MacFarlane backed away as he was soon pulled back into Family Guy duty. The show was conceived as a liberal’s answer to the Bush era political climate of the time. The conservative leading man, Stan Smith (MacFarlane) would be positioned opposite his young adult daughter Hayley (Rachael MacFarlane), a college-educated liberal, and rely on the conflict inherent in that relationship for several plots. Stan was presented as boorish and unfailingly patriotic, and as a member of the CIA he took national security very seriously to the point of suspecting anyone with brown skin as being a terrorist. Hayley was often the voice of reason, though also saddled with the usual college stereotype of being lazy and more interested in getting high than actually working to promote change in the political landscape. She would be paired with a boyfriend turned husband, Jeff Fischer (Jeff Fischer), that Stan hates which is basically the same relationship Archie Bunker had with “Meathead” in All in the Family.

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In this episode, Stan is going to learn the true meaning of Christmas and we’re going to learn about Roger’s past, seen here laying face-down in a mix of snow and vomit.

Eventually, the show found a niche and relied less on the Stan/Hayley dynamic. The rest of the family would play a more prominent role in furthering stories. Francine (Wendy Schaal) is portrayed as a stay-at-home mom and is the caretaker of the house and kids. She began life in the show as being a stereotypical conservative ideal, but over the years has developed her own quirks and failings, making her feel like a more fleshed-out character. Son Steve (Scott Grimes) has been molded into being Stan’s opposite ideal for a son. He’s a geek who likes comics and Dungeons & Dragons, but also is emotionally Stan’s opposite as he’s sensitive and comfortable with expressing his “non manly” emotions. As is the case with all MacFarlane shows, there’s a talking animal and in this one it’s a goldfish named Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker) who is a former German athlete trapped in the body of a fish. He’s mostly just there to make observations and the family often ignores him. By far, the big breakout character of the show is definitely Roger the alien (MacFarlane), who saved Stan’s life years ago and as reward is being kept safe from the government in the Smith household. He begins the show as an Alf knock-off, but the writers eventually found another role for him and that’s as an alien of many personalities. He often leaves the home in disguise and will even live other lives as he devotes himself to the roles he plays. He’s also literally the show’s worst character as he’s a sociopathic narcissist and will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. In that aspect, he somewhat resembles Cartman of South Park fame.

For what Wikipedia considers the show’s third season (it’s complicated), a Christmas episode was commissioned. It would be the first of several, as the very conservative Stan and his family naturally lend themselves well to the holiday. The episodes have become some of the show’s finest as they’re pretty big in spectacle and only seem to grow more and more outlandish. There would be a continuity established as well as the Smith family becomes the enemy of Santa. Because the show’s broadcast schedule is a bit erratic, not every year brings with it a new Christmas episode, but it’s certainly something I look for each year.

Since I have never covered American Dad! before in one of these countdowns, it would seem the best place to start is with that first Christmas special. “The Best Christmas Story Never Told” premiered on December 17, 2006. Some places consider that Season 3 of the show, though it would appear it’s production Season Two. Writing of the episode is credited to Brian Boyle with staff writers Laura McCreary and Erik Durbin also receiving credits. Boyle is also executive producer on the series, but has received a written by credit on several other episodes, including the 2014 Christmas episode “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas” which interestingly is similar to this one as it presents an alternate reality for Stan at Christmas.

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The Smith family ready to bask in the glow of the town Christmas tree.

While I do think American Dad! is quite different from Family Guy, it does amuse me that this inaugural Christmas episode begins the same way as Family Guy’s first Christmas episode. The whole family is gathered in the town square for the annual lighting of the town Christmas tree. Stan is quite jubilant about the whole thing, while Roger is face-down in the snow and booze (and vomit) since Christmas makes him feel like a failure. It’s here Roger’s origin is retconned a bit, possibly for the first time, as he reveals he’s been on Earth for over 40 years. In other words, he had a lengthy existence before meeting the Smith family. Stan doesn’t care and implores him to acknowledge the holiday. When it’s announced the lighting has been cancelled at the last minute due to the town being unable to celebrate a secular holiday on town property, Stan gets angry as a crew moves in to demolish the place. Stan rages it’s the liberals and atheists telling them how to celebrate their holiday, and when a passerby tries to reason with Stan, Stan laments he can’t wait for The Rapture. As Stan tells them they’ll be left behind, Francine tries to smooth things over by telling the other family they’re free to use their pool after they’ve been raptured, provided it’s not boiling. Francine then suggests they go to church instead and Stan dismisses that suggestion on account of church being boring. He then declares he needs to go someplace where he can learn the true meaning of Christmas – the mall!

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Take note of the little person working the camera.

Stan contentedly looks on as his kids sit on Santa’s lap and ask him for toys. He remarks that this is what Christmas is all about and as he does so the show decides to use a regrettable slur for little people and even has Hayley, who should know better, use it casually as well. The kids then implore their father to get something for Roger for Christmas, but Stan doesn’t want to since Roger isn’t Christian. Roger has no say at the moment for he’s passed out in a baby stroller. Stan then takes sight of The 99 Cent Depot and decides he can spare a buck for Roger.

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I bet you expected Stan to react this way to “Happy Holidays.”

Stan heads to the register and asks for one of the store’s wares. The clerk hands him a cassette of disco’s greatest hits from 1974-1980 and Stan deems this satisfactory. When the clerk tells him it costs $1.07 due to taxes, Stan suggests they change the store’s name, but the clerk points out that’s not his decision. Stan smiles and is satisfied with that response, but when he wishes the clerk a “Merry Christmas,” (you know where this is going) and gets a “Happy Holidays” in return his mood changes. Angry, he demands that the clerk acknowledge his holiday, but the same excuse about the sign is not enough to sway Stan this time. He pulls out a gun to demand action and we cut to Stan being tossed outside by security. When he calls back to remind them he had a gun, a gift-wrapped gun is tossed to him.

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Did you take note of that little person two pictures ago?!

At the Smith household, Stan is still visibly outraged by the “liberals” who are destroying Christmas. The family tries to reason with him, but he’s more than a little stubborn. Stan then rhetorically asks the family who is to blame for all of this, and they respond with exhaustion in their voices because this is something Stan must remind them of often, Jane Fonda. Apparently Stan blames Ms. Fonda for spreading liberal ideas through her protests against the war in Vietnam and it’s not something he’s about to let go of. A ring of the doorbell gets Stan’s hopes up momentarily as he thinks carolers have arrived. He opens the door to the costumed group, but finds out they’re only here to spread awareness of the Holiday Rapist and hold up a flier. This is the tipping point for Stan as he demands they refer to him as the Christmas Rapist. He slams the door and sets to destroying the festive decorations in the house, including tossing most of them through the living room window. Steve begins to cry that Daddy destroyed the toys Chinese kids made for him while Francine scolds Stan for his behavior. She tells him he’s sleeping on the couch tonight which Stan tries to protest by pointing out the now missing window and the presence of the Christmas Rapist on the loose.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past has been assigned Stan Smith this year. Unlike other ghosts, she apparently works alone on Christmas.

Stan is shown sleeping on the couch (in his suit, for some reason) looking a bit cold when a woman materializes beside him. She’s quite fairy-like I suppose, and when she wakes Stan he snaps open his eyes and shouts “Holiday Rapist!” and dives behind the couch before quickly correcting himself with “Christmas Rapist.” The woman then explains, in a faux British accent, that she’s the Ghost of Christmas Past (Lisa Kudrow) and she’s here to help Stan lean the true meaning of Christmas. He soon brightens up and the ghost takes him all the way back to 1970.

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The idyllic Christmas of Stan’s youth.

There the two peek into the Smith home where a young Stan is opening his Christmas presents. Stan is amazed that they’re really back in 1970 and the woman reassures him by mentioning how things are different. One of those mentions is Jane Fonda, who is presently filming to movie Klute nearby causing Stan’s eyes to narrow in a menacing fashion. He then takes off running, much to the bewilderment of the ghost, who just calls for him to come back, dropping the accent. When he doesn’t obey, she just starts grumbling to herself about how this is her first turn as Past and she already screwed it up. Apparently, she used to be a Tooth Fairy. She then reveals to us her name is Michelle, and mentions she should have just stayed with some guy named Chad.

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Jane Fonda on the set of Klute. Fonda, and the other celebrities of this episode, were offered to voice themselves, but all turned the show down. I bet they would have said “Yes,” to The Simpsons.

Stan is able to track down the filming location for Klute and watches as Jane Fonda (uncredited, but sounds like Wendy Schaal) is filmed feeding a cat, and then herself. She explains her decision to eat the cat food to the director which just irritates Stan even further. Stan is grossed out and remarks “You are so dead,” to himself.

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In order to find Stan, Michelle is going to need Francine’s help.

Back in the present, Michelle appears in Francine’s room and splashes her with water in order to wake her up. She explains to Francine what happened, and when Francine gets mad Michelle asks rhetorically if she blames mothers who lose their kids at the mall. When Francine gives her an “Are you serious?” look in response, Michelle answers the question emphatically herself with a, “No! No, you don’t!” Realizing what Stan is up to, Francine reluctantly drags herself out of bed and heads for the bathroom. When Michelle expresses her impatience, Francine tells her she isn’t going back to that filthy decade without some Purell.

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Stan makes an important discovery, and we find out Donald Sutherland is a real creep. Maybe that’s why he declined to voice himself.

Filming wraps for the day and Stan keeps close as Fonda retreats to her dressing room accompanied by Donald Sutherland (Chris Diamontopoulis). It’s while watching these two interact that Stan realizes it was Sutherland who put those liberal ideas into Fonda’s head. He then corrects himself that Fonda isn’t his target and that he must instead kill Donald Sutherland! Sutherland immediately confronts him as he was apparently standing beside Stan, but he’s a bit clueless and asks Stan if he’s here to give Fonda her massage. Stan decides that he is indeed here to do just that remarking that it would be rather nice to do so. Sutherland then leaves him to it and as Stan closes the door to Fonda’s dressing room we hear him announce his arrival and tells her to finish her cat food.

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Roger, about to make a life-changing discovery.

Stan then follows Sutherland and Fonda out to a restaurant, Elaine’s, but is prevented from entering since he’s not on the list. He then goes around the back to sneak in with the restaurant staff while stashing his gun in his pants. Once he disappears inside, we see some waiters come out for a smoke break. One of them is clearly Roger in disguise. When the other waiter asks if he got the part he tried out for he replies, “No, they were looking for someone more flesh-colored with a nose.” The other waiter tells him to give up on his dreams and leaves him. As Roger sits dejected, he notices something in the snow. It’s the disco tape that fell out of Stan’s jacket before he went inside. When Roger reads the title he announces it’s from the future! And since he’s an alien from outer space, he deems that plausible.

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The encounter that will doom Christmas.

At the restaurant, Stan is finishing up in a restroom when a hairy-looking dude emerges from a stall. Stan notices the man is smoking marijuana, and Stan admonishes him for doing so. The guy doesn’t seem bothered by it, and goes on to introduce himself as Marty, Marty Scorsese (Grimes). When Stan begins to gush and says he loves his films, Marty is shocked and assumes Stan has seen his film of a guy shaving. Stan is amused, but then assures him he’s going to be great, but that he’ll never win an Oscar if he’s hooked on drugs. Marty agrees, and starts humorously removing all of the drug paraphernalia on his person which includes many bags, joints, and even a bong in his pants. Stan is touched, and the two have a nice, men’s room, hug.

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The artists don’t usually get to draw dinosaurs so let’s throw ’em a bone!

Meanwhile, Michelle has overshot her magic and taken Francine back to the Jurassic period. They observe some cute little dinosaurs running past before a T-Rex eats them causing the two to scream before Michelle gets them out of there. You can’t play around with time travel and not show a dinosaur at some point.

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Stan assuming his cool, assassin, pose.

Feeling quite satisfied, Stan returns to the task at hand:  killing Donald Sutherland. He spots Sutherland and Fonda having dinner and when Sutherland suggests Fonda get involved in politics, he offers to talk about them over a drink at “my place.” Stan counters as he pulls out his gun with, “Let’s talk about it over your brains. Maybe all over the place?” Before he can pull the trigger, and before anyone seems to notice him, Michelle and Francine appear and pull him aside. The two express their anger with Stan, and when Francine says they won’t allow him to kill Jane Fonda, Stan corrects them to point out he’s now targeting Sutherland, the lanky, Canadian, Kiefer-spawning bastard! That doesn’t matter much to Michelle and Francine as they’re not about to let Stan murder anyone and they quickly take him back to the present.

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Something clearly went wrong.

Or do they? When the trio arrive, they find the Smith living room looks different. It’s drab, with cinderblocks for furniture and Communist posters on the wall. When Francine calls out for Steve and Hayley, a Russian man comes down the stairs firing a shotgun at them. They quickly run out into the street and find the country is now under the dominion of the Russians! Michelle gets to turn all glowy and dramatic as she informs Stan that he destroyed America! Francine then pauses to pee beside a car as she’s been holding it in since the 70s.

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A monument commemorating the birth of this new, Russian, empire.

Michelle then does some sleuthing on some tablet she has to try and figure out what happened. She knows Stan did something, but he insists he did nothing that would change the past. She has him go over what he did while in 1970 and when he gets to the part about meeting Scorsese in the bathroom Michelle gets a hit. It seems by getting Scorsese off drugs, he never went on to make Taxi Driver. And since he didn’t make Taxi Driver, John Hinckley never became obsessed with actress Jodi Foster and thus never attempted to impress her by assassinating President Reagan. Since Reagan didn’t survive an assassination attempt, he lacked the good will to beat back Mondale in the presidential election of 1984 and upon becoming president, Mondale would hand the country over to Russia. Stan then realizes that in order to stop Russia from overtaking America, he needs to travel back to the past and film Taxi Driver. When Francine objects to point out how crazy that conclusion is, Michelle steps in to say Stan is right as she’s apparently just as crazy as he is.

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Roger and his precious tape.

As those three set out to right Stan’s wrong, we check-in on Roger who’s about to make his first million selling disco songs to Clive Davis. He’s been milking that cassette he found like Biff from Back to the Future Part II and having a good time of it. He celebrates his fortune by heading to a nightclub and shouts at the sky for his mom to see him now! He then tells her to stop looking while he snorts some cocaine, and then tells her she can look again as he resumes dancing.

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Stan Smith is not a Robert DeNiro fan.

On the set of Taxi Driver, Stan is watching as Robert DeNiro (Diamantopoulis) rehearses. DeNiro is talking to himself in the mirror and Stan objects. He instructs DeNiro to talk at himself in the mirror and not at the mirror, which DeNiro finds absurd and quits. Francine is pissed at Stan for driving DeNiro away, but he assures her it’s fine since they only need Hinkley to fall for Jodi Foster. Michelle, once again, goes along with Stan who is now delighted he can make Taxi Driver with the leading man he thinks would be best:  John Wayne.

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Ever wonder what Taxi Driver would look like with John Wayne in the lead role?

At a showing of the finished film, Stan, Francine, and Michelle find John Hinckley in the audience and observe him watching the film’s climax. In it, Foster’s character is tied up and about to be set on fire by Native Americans doing an inflammatory dance routine. Wayne shows up in his cab and emerges, old and fat and with a mohawk under his traditional cowboy hat. He shoots all of the Native Americans and rescues Foster as a boom mic comes into the shot and knocks over a background, indicating they shot and edited this thing rather poorly. When it’s over, Francine immediately starts asking Hinckley what he thought and when Francine suggests that Foster was pretty hot he acts disgusted. Realizing their plan failed, Michelle identifies one last resort.

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Roger did not take Larry’s advice and switch off speaker phone.

In 1981, Regan is staying at the Hilton and he’s about to be shot. Only now, he’s not. Meanwhile, high above Roger is partying away when his phone rings. It’s someone named Larry, who informs Roger his last album only sold 90 copies and that disco is dead. He’s broke. Roger can’t believe it and when he asks how he could be broke when he has a bunch of investments and race horses, he then says “I thought you were feeding them?!” indicating there was some confusion over what to do with the race horses once purchased. Roger then tries to kill himself by jumping through the window of his penthouse, but that glass is pretty damn thick and he just gets knocked out.

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It’s time for Stan to get nuts!

At ground level, Michelle has spelled it out for Stan that in order to save Christmas (remember, this is a Christmas episode) he needs to shoot his idol, Ronald Reagan. Stan insists he can’t do it, but he’s reminded he needs to do it if he wants Christmas back. Stan reasons they could learn Russian and be happy, though he also laments he’ll probably miss a lot of elevators at first while he learns how to say “Hold the door,” in Russian. He then reminds Francine that they’ll be fine as long as they’re together as a family, indicating that maybe he has learned the true meaning of Christmas. Or at least one of them. Michelle then informs him there’s no guarantee Hayley and Steve exist now, and if he really wants to save Christmas and his family, he’s going to have to shoot Reagan. Stan reluctantly agrees, and when Michelle reminds him that he just has to “wing him” Stan laughs and thanks her for reminding him indicating that he was probably going to shoot to kill.

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If you’re doing A Christmas Carol, even loosely like this one, you still have to have this scene.

As Reagan is shown leaving the hotel. Stan makes his way through the crowd like a crazy person. He pulls out his gun and then starts shouting “Merry Christmas!” over and over as he opens fire. The screen goes white and then fades to reveal Stan and Francine asleep in their bed. Francine wakes up and immediately wakes Stan who runs to the window and opens it. He sees a paper boy outside who looks almost exactly like the kid on the cover of Paper Boy for the Nintendo Entertainment System. When he asks the kid what day it is, he responds that it’s Christmas and Stan then barks at him to get off his lawn!

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Stan mostly puts Christmas back together.

Downstairs, Stan has boarded up the broken window and re-setup the mangled tree. The gifts are re-wrapped and Hayley and Steve come down the stairs overjoyed to see that Christmas is back. Roger then comes into the room drunk explaining that Christmas reminds him how he created disco and then lost all of his money. The family laughs at him and then Stan is summoned into the kitchen by Michelle. There she thanks him for bailing her ass out by giving him a gift. He opens it to find a shiny, new, Glock. Michelle says she had just enough time to hit the mall last night for it, and when Stan questions how she got it so fast apparently bypassing the waiting period, she reminds him that he only shot Reagan. He never hit James Brady, and thus there was never passage of The Brady Bill which means guns are as easy to buy as a stick of gum. Stan is delighted and mugs for the camera with a “Best Christmas ever!”

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Roger no longer needs to be depressed that he hasn’t accomplished anything in his time on Earth, now he can lament that he lost his fortune when disco died. Also, his genitals are located near his armpit.

This is a pretty great early episode of American Dad! Stan is very much the conservative whack-job throughout and it’s obvious that the absurd War on Christmas notion is what drove the writers to craft this plot. It’s also possible they worked backward from the premise of what if Stan had to shoot his hero in order to save Christmas? The show is jam-packed with jokes as almost every sentence Stan utters is a joke of some kind. They’re just understated jokes, which is one of the main differences between American Dad! and Family Guy. Family Guy seems to rarely trust its audience with knowing what is and isn’t a joke and everything is practically screamed at the audience. American Dad! is far more confident, and while it does get absurd and thrust things into the forefront at times, it rarely feels obnoxious.

Since Stan is essentially an easy target, there are some jokes in this episode that could be considered easy, maybe even lazy. Even with those though, the show goes the extra mile to add a spin to make them seem less conventional. A perfect example is Stan’s argument with the clerk over his holiday greeting. The episode makes a point of demonstrating that Stan can be agreeable and even sympathetic to the plight of the working man who has to do as he’s commanded when the clerk makes the comment about not being able to change the name of the store from The 99 Cent Depot to The $1.07 Store to account for tax. Stan accepts that, but he can’t accept the kid saying “Happy Holidays” even though he’s directed to by his boss who can and probably will fire him for saying anything else. And because Stan’s a maniac, it has to escalate to Stan pulling a gun for added comedic effect.

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Coming up with a plot that involves Stan finding the true meaning of Christmas thus saving the holiday doesn’t take a ton of creativity. Having Stan replace John Hinckley Jr. as Reagan’s would-be assassin? Now that’s genius!

If the episode did begin with the premise of Stan shooting Reagan to save Christmas, then the writers also did a good job of making that happen. While American Dad! mostly behaves like a sitcom, it’s not afraid to get fantastical and do some crazy stuff. Granted, so many shows have done a variation of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life that weren’t particularly crazy, but it’s still quite a leap to have your characters time travel. This show will get way more fantastic in that regard, but this episode is largely able to rise above the notion of being an adaptation of that holiday classic without really feeling like one. Normally I hate to give time to anything that indulges in the trope, but American Dad! makes it work quite well.

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Lisa Kudrow is pretty wonderful as Michelle, The Ghost of Christmas Past. The show gives her a lot to work with and her personality meshes well with the character.

The only downside with this episode is that it’s actually pretty light on Christmas. It begins festive enough, but once we jump back in time it’s actually easy to forget that this is a Christmas episode of American Dad! It manages to hang onto its premise though and that’s Stan needing to learn the true meaning of Christmas, which the episode defines as basically family time. It’s actually a surprisingly warm conclusion for a show not afraid to do cynical or dark endings. Of course, there’s a touch of the show’s cynicism in the ending since Stan has created a world in which guns are even more accessible. This probably isn’t my favorite Christmas episode from this show, but it’s definitely a good measuring stick for all of them. And since I’ve managed to avoid American Dad! (not intentionally, it just happened that way) while doing this countdown for years now, you can safely assume it will return next year as there’s a lot more I can turn to.

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“Best Christmas ever!”

American Dad! currently airs on both TBS and Cartoon Network almost daily. As a result, you should have no problem finding an airing of this episode at some point this month, and probably more than once. And if cable isn’t your thing, the show is streaming on Hulu and also available on physical media and for digital purchase all over the place. This should be an easy one to find and it comes recommended.


Dec. 17 – Family Guy – “Don’t Be a Dickens at Christmas”

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Christmas comes to Quahog.

So it’s come to this. We’re doing Family Guy. I don’t mean to come across as a snob or some animation elitist (after all, we already did Robot Chicken), but I don’t care for most of Family Guy. That wasn’t always the case. When the show originally aired on Fox I actually liked it quite a bit. And when it came to Cartoon Network I watched it almost every night. The absurdist humor, often relying on shock or surprise, was refreshing for a moment. It came at a good time as The Simpsons was coming off of its high and network animation was kind of flailing. The show was rather ugly and that first season was a bit rough, but I have mostly positive memories of seasons two and three and I have the DVD sets somewhere in my house.

Then, of course, the show made a surprising comeback. DVD sales and Cartoon Network ratings gave Fox enough confidence to order a new season. That new season premiered in 2005, and 14 years later Family Guy appears to be going strong. What changed for me over the years? Well, shock and random humor gets old. The show fell into the trap where it needed to top itself. Have Peter unexpectedly fight a chicken for five minutes? Well, then you to need bring him back and have the fight last for eight minutes! The characters gradually got meaner and less likable. Everyone dumps on Meg to the point where it’s not funny and it feels like there is no joke that is too low. The cut-away gags have become parody at this point as the show apparently decided to double-down when South Park called them out on how lazy those jokes were way back when.

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Like probably a lot of folks, there was a time when Family Guy really appealed to me, but those days are long gone.

It’s not all terrible though. The Stewie and Brian pairing still seems to work and often brings out the best of the show. I’ll give those a watch anytime I notice them. I also still really enjoy the show’s inaugural Christmas episode, “A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas” and the double-length “Road to the North Pole” has its moments as well. That gives me some reason for optimism as we tackle today’s episode, “Don’t Be a Dickens at Christmas.” This episode is pretty modern having premiered as part of Season 16 on December 10, 2017. There’s still a chance this could go very wrong, and the title implies yet another parody of A Christmas Carol. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that one of television’s least imaginative comedy series would turn to Dickens for a Christmas special, and I’m not. The only surprise is that they held off until Season 16 to do it.

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The Pawtucket Brewery all covered in smog and snow for Christmas.

The episode opens with the standard credits, so this one isn’t scoring any bonus points for a festive intro. We’re immediately taken to the Pawtucket Brewery where Peter (Seth MacFarlane) works. Angela (Carrie Fisher, in her final appearance on the show) is trying to inform the workers that they’re getting out early on account of Christmas, but Peter keeps interrupting her by playing Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” on an old boom box. This happens three times before Angela just gives up on her speech and tells everyone to go home. As Peter races out, his coworkers turn into the cast of Dazed and Confused. The Matthew McConaughey character is present. When Peter inquires what he’s doing for Christmas, it leads him into a parody of McConaughey’s Lincoln car commercials (remember those?) immediately dating this episode. In the parody, he’s driving around aimlessly with two teens tied up in his backseat (he’s embarking on a “slay” ride). The joke ends with a voiceover saying “Lincoln – What are we doing?” which is a typical way too on the nose joke that this show is frequently guilty of.

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The family is rolling with nontraditional clothes, always a plus.

The setting shifts to the home of the Griffins and everyone is decorating while they await the return of their patriarch. Lois (Alex Borstein) is hanging stockings and points out they always hang a stocking for son Chris’s stillborn twin who was to be named Tmas (thud). Brian (MacFarlane) takes this opportunity to inform the family what he got them all for Christmas – volunteering at a homeless shelter. Chris (Seth Green) and Meg (Mila Kunis) immediately protest while Stewie (MacFarlane) is surprisingly chill with it. Lois resumes her old identity of thoughtful parent and says it’s a lovely gift and will be good for the kids, then punctuates it with a tasteless remark about watching the homeless shit through their pants. Meg fills stockings with Kanye Canes, and it’s another joke that goes on way too long and was never funny. The voiceover from the Lincoln commercial returns to announce the “Family Guy Christmas Special” and again asks “What are we thinking?” I’m thinking you’re having trouble filling out 22 minutes.

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Peter never fails to disappoint his unloved ones.

The family then moves to the lawn when Chris spots Peter’s car speeding towards home. They’re surprisingly giddy about him coming home, but he just speeds by spraying mud on them. Lois lets us know he’s heading for the bar, while Stewie points out he actually had to go out of his way to do this.

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This Norm MacDonald bit is probably the best sequence of the episode.

At the bar, Peter is enjoying some cold ones with his pals Quagmire (MacFarlane), Cleveland (Mike Henry), and Joe (Patrick Warburton) and watching Norm MacDonald (himself) read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on television. MacDonald gets hung up on the word ‘Twas and keeps getting sidetracked as he tries to read the story. This is actually solid writing for MacDonald which makes me wonder if he did it himself or if the writers just know Norm well enough to do him right. The bit ends with Norm getting fired and goes into a joke about what Cleveland is doing for Christmas (it’s bad, and will pop up again). Peter then announces he wants to get home before the over-enthusiastic carolers arrive. He’s too late as the carolers enter and quickly overrun the bar, converting Quagmire in the process. They’re depicted almost like a singing horde of zombies. It’s not very funny, but at least it’s not offensive, and that’s basically the bar we’ve established here.

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A gag that’s pretty similar to one from the first Christmas special in which Lois keeps asking Peter to do stuff he doesn’t want to do.

At the Griffin home, we’re “treated” to a long fake commercial for those laser lights people project on their homes at Christmas. This feels like low-hanging fruit. The commercial doesn’t really make fun of the product and instead turns into a joke about blind people. Peter then arrives home and is eager to watch some Patrick Swayze movie, but before his ass hits the couch Lois informs him he has some chores to get done. He literally freezes in place in mid-sitting motion as she reads of a list that begins rather mundanely, and then ventures into absurd territories finishing with her requesting he move the house a few inches. Peter groans and asks if he can do some of it tomorrow, but Lois tells him he can’t because they’re volunteering at the homeless shelter. Peter is angry when he finds out he’s expected to go leading to a fight between the two and Chris fearful that the divorce is finally coming. Lois tells Peter she’s sick of his selfishness and then takes the kids to Newport to spend Christmas with her parents leaving Peter home alone with his Swayze movie. He then does a cut-away about taking a too full bath which doesn’t even come close to landing.

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That’s no Marley.

After a rather lovely exterior shot of the Griffen house in the snow, we find Peter inebriated on his couch watching a Patrick Swayze Christmas movie of some kind. He confesses his love for Swayze, then passes out. As he does, a burst of light fills the room and moves beside the Christmas tree. An ethereal voice beckons him to wake up. Peter opens his eyes and questions if the voice belongs to Santa, only to find out it belongs to Patrick Swayze (Don Swayze, Patrick’s real life brother, provides his voice). Peter is confused as this is 2017 and Swayze is long dead prompting Swayze to ask him if he ever saw Ghost? Swayze tells him he’s here to restore Peter’s Christmas spirit. Peter then goes into his Roadhouse gag from many episodes ago, and Swayze joins him.

After the break, Peter is shown gushing over the ghost of Patrick Swayze and even remarks he wants to run through his hair. Swayze indulges him and Peter is shown prancing like a deer through a brown meadow. He comes out of it to find himself at his home in the year 1970-80-90 when President Richard-Reagan-Clinton was in office. This is actually a clever joke at how these long-running animated series in which the characters are frozen in time have to keep reevaluating when they were born.

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“Look how thin I was!”

Inside the home, Peter and Patrick watch as a young Peter wakes up on Christmas morning. He plays with his new toys, and his mom brings him a plate of cookies for breakfast. Peter remarks how he really had the Christmas spirit back then and wonders how he lost it. He then directs our attention to his friend Holden who enters the room. Peter makes a comments that this is when he could talk, then ponders what happened. We then see him later in life at an airport trying to get to a bathroom. A little girl keeps shouting “Hold it in” and he eventually collapses  on Peter’s floor repeating the phrase until it becomes “Holden.” Peter tells Swayze this is a Game of Thrones joke and says he’d think it’s funny if he hadn’t died before the show premiered.

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Carter’s house is looking pretty nice. Why wouldn’t Peter want to spend Christmas here?

Patrick then takes Peter to the present, as he is playing the role of all of the ghosts apparently. First stop is weather man Ollie Willaims’ (Phil LaMarr) home who just yells at his kid. Next up is the home of Opie (Mark Hentemen), Peter’s co-worker with a severe speech impediment and possible brain injury that results in him mostly being unintelligible. He’s dressed up as Santa and gives his kids presents, then leaves and reappears with his kids apparently completely unaware it was him despite how preposterous that is. He then moves to the window and watches an old man reunite with his family as the theme from Home Alone plays. He then starts to sing it and subtitles appear that just say “Home Alone Theme – We think,” – isn’t making fun of brain damage fun? They then go to Cleveland’s house where Cleveland and his family revisit the joke from earlier of them listening to an R&B record in which it takes the African American singer a ridiculously long amount of time to get through a single syllable. It’s still not funny. Peter remarks that at least they’re together as a family, and Swayze informs him he knows one family that is not.

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Lois probably slept with the butler this night.

We’re taken to Newport, where the rest of Peter’s family is enjoying a meal from Boston Market. Lois’s Dad, Carter (MacFarlane), then mocks the family for doubting the quality of Boston Market, which I guess is a complement to the venerable chain? He then tells them they need to call his grandmother, Nana Pewderschmidt. He puts her on speaker phone and she’s speaking in German. I bet you know where this is going. Carter ends the call once she predictably starts complaining about Jews and then declares it’s time for figgy pudding. As they sit down for dessert, Meg questions her brother if they should call Dirt. Chris thinks she means Dad, but she corrects him that she means Dirt who she describes as some fat guy that sleeps with Lois. Lois is shown having an awkward exchange with a butler, and Peter informs Swayze that she’s using her flirty laugh. He tells Swayze it’s a subtle laugh, and you need to really know her to notice it. We then cut back to Lois who is now grabbing the butler by the face and demanding to see his penis. Cut back to Peter who is still trying to explain the subtlety of the situation. Before he can get more upset he shouts “Oh no, they got Joe!” and the carolers from earlier burst in and now they have both Joe and Quagmire in their ranks.

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I think we all expected this, or something like it, at some point.

Peter is then returned to his home, alone. He declares that Swayze hasn’t scared him, and he soon finds himself transported into the movie Ghost. It’s the infamous pottery wheel scene, only Peter isn’t playing Demi Moore’s part, but is actually the pottery. Swayze is there and tells him he’s now the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as he handles Peter’s malleable anatomy. And then we’re off to the future to find Quagmire, Joe, and Cleveland seated at the bar mourning the loss of their friend. Quagmire informs us that Lois had to sell everything to afford the funeral, and he unhappily displays the underwear he bought off of her. Peter is oblivious to who they’re mourning and for some reason assumes it’s a guy named Benjamin.

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Meet Lance. They don’t really do anything with him so there isn’t really a joke here. Lois just found someone a lot more attractive than Peter once he was out of the way.

Patrick then takes Peter to former Griffin household to drive the point home. Lois calls up to her husband to come downstairs pointing out how he’s out of frame. This allows Peter to get excited thinking he may have finally lost weight, but when a guy named Lance comes down instead he declares he must have finally worked up the courage to leave Lois. We now get to see the kids and the first to come downstairs is Chris who declares he’s going to Colombia. He doesn’t mean the school and means the country where he’ll be smuggling drugs in his rectum. Meg then comes downstairs and declares she’s going to Yale and Peter surprisingly gets ahead of the joke and knows she got a job with a lock maker. A very plump Stewie emerges to say he’s going to brown…some sausages for breakfast. Peter is happy his kids got Ivy League puns, but he wants to know where Brian is.

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Peter as a ghost dog fart. You read that correctly.

Swayze then takes Peter to a cemetery where a very old Brian is sleeping beside a tombstone. Peter still doesn’t get it and Patrick has to point out it’s his grave. The born date on the tombstone references the previous 1970-80-90 joke from earlier. He died five years before this moment when his Milf on a Shelf accidentally set his Christmas tree on fire with her cigarette. A ghost Peter then appears and we find out that this ghost is actually a dog fart. You see, people who lose their Christmas spirit and then die become dog farts for all eternity. He then disappears, but Swayze assures him he’ll reappear soon since Brian is a dog of 13. And sure enough, the ghost of Peter does return and warns Peter about his fate. More ghosts appear and they all have something gross to tell him about Brian’s rectum. They surround Peter and spin around causing him to collapse to the ground crying out he doesn’t want this to be.

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Peter using Instagram porn stars as a way of telling what day it is definitely works. He’s the type of guy that probably sends lots of awkward messages to such girls on a daily basis.

Peter then finds himself back at home on Christmas morning. He checks his phone to find that all of the porn girls he follows on Instagram are wearing Santa hats in their pictures which is how he knows it’s Christmas. He names a few of them and refers to them as thirst traps.

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There’s a pair of additional surprises under the tree this year.

We then return to Newport where everyone is opening presents. Meg declares everything is perfect, while Lois seems a bit blue. Chris informs us that every time Carter bends over they can see his genitals which horrifies Stewie. Peter then bursts in looking a bit disheveled carrying a sack full of hastily bought presents. Meg reacts by calling him Dirt, so that clears up some confusion from earlier. He distributes a bunch of awful gifts which his family actually enjoy. Meg is shocked to be given a gift of any kind from her father, who apparently has never bought her anything. Peter and Lois embrace, and then the ghost of Patrick Swayze appears. Peter asks him if there’s anything he can do for him, and Swayze says “Well, there’s one thing in Heaven that Chris Farley won’t do for me,” which leads into Peter and Swayze reenacting the Saturday Night Live bit where he and Farley danced to “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” as part of the infamous Chippendales sketch.

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This pretty much had to happen.

As the two gyrate and Peter loses his clothes, we see the rest of the family can’t see Patrick or hear the music. Lois instructs them all to just keep opening presents as Peter will eventually tire himself out. Carter then resumes handing out the gifts and everyone grimaces when he bends over. The licensed track returns as we move to an exterior shot of the Pewderschmidt compound. In an effort to fill time, a subtitle appears confessing the writers unironically enjoy the song. They then confirm this is being done to fill time as the episode ends with a festive rendition of “Jingle Bells” over the credits.

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The family’s reaction to Peter’s nearly nude dancing seems a bit overdone. This type of behavior from Peter should be expected.

I had the lowest expectations going into this one. Not only is it an episode of Family Guy, but it’s also a parody of A Christmas Carol. That should mean disaster, but it’s mostly fine. The vast majority of the jokes don’t land. This is a show that believes in quantity over quality as it’s just joke after joke after joke. And there’s no subtlety to any of it. Some of the jokes made me groan, but there were at least a few clever ones. I don’t think anything made me laugh out loud, but there were at least a few that made me smile. The show loves returning to jokes from earlier in the episode and even from previous episodes. This approach can be rewarding, but when the joke wasn’t very funny to begin with it doesn’t really work.

One thing I did enjoy was the use of Patrick Swayze. I was a bit alarmed when he showed up initially as I expected some really tasteless dead celebrity jokes to follow, but they really didn’t go for any of that. Since he was voiced by Swayze’s brother, it’s reasonable to assume that nothing in this episode would have offended the actor. It felt more like a love letter to Swayze as the character of Peter has shown an affection for him in the past. The ending scene of the duo reenacting the Chippendale’s sketch from SNL was actually more sweet than funny, which I enjoyed. It was a rather nice way to end the episode.

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This is a rather fun shot for the episode to go out on.

Family Guy has never been a show that’s all that enjoyable to actually look at, but I do like the seasonal settings in this one. The show has an honesty in how it portrays snow, which is more gray than white as it quickly gets dirtied by the environment. The homes of both the Griffins and Pewderschmidts are tastefully lit and the interior shots are warm and festive.

“Don’t Be a Dickens at Christmas” was merely all right. If I were to find myself in front of the TV watching a lineup of Christmas episodes on Adult Swim I’d probably watch this one. If I were actually seeking out a Christmas episode of Family Guy then I’d still definitely turn to the one from Season 3. My expectations for this show are so low at this point that when an episode doesn’t leave me disgusted it feels like a victory. I suppose that’s not a glowing recommendation, but you could do worse.

If you wish to catch this one on television this year, just keep your eyes open. Family Guy airs all of the time on cable and one of the many networks that airs the show will likely show this one multiple times this month. Of course, we’re getting late in the game here so if you missed it, well there’s always Hulu or various streaming services where you can either rent or buy the episode. I wouldn’t pay money for it, but I’m also not you. I suppose if you’re a fan of Family Guy then you probably like this episode just fine and you’re also probably irritated with me at this point. And that too, is fine.


Dec. 2 – Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special

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First broadcast December 16, 2012.

This is going to be a bit of an experiment. These recaps the last few years have basically focused on cartoons or live-action shows in which a story is told over some duration. I have so far avoided sketch shows, not purposely, but it’s definitely been in the back of my mind that doing a write-up in this style is a bit more challenging with a sketch show. It’s like reviewing or recapping several micro episodes of a TV show.

And when it comes to micro-sized entertainment, Robot Chicken should be the first show that comes to mind. Each episode is about 11 minutes long and contains an irregular number of sketches within that 11 minutes, some of which are literally just a few seconds long. Most of these are animated using stop-motion techniques with action figures in place of true puppets. Often these action figures require modification to animate in a more desirable fashion and when that is needed clay appears to be the medium of choice.

img_4139Robot Chicken is the brain child of Seth Green and Matthew Senreich. Green, as the most visible star associated with the brand, often handles a lot of the voicing duties and appears to get a lot of help from his Family Guy co-stars as well. Senreich, along with writers Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root, are veterans of ToyFare magazine which would often contain a comic in its pages called Twisted ToyFare Theater that is basically Robot Chicken in print form. Those sequences were popular, so it’s not that surprising to see the concept was taken to television where Robot Chicken has had a presence on Adult Swim since 2005.

Robot Chicken has been an ally to Christmas from almost day one. There have been several holiday editions of the show and some themes have sprung up. Santa Claus is a reoccurring character in these shorts and he is, I believe, always voiced by Seth MacFarlane. The show will often poke fun at classic holiday specials or just do something nerdy and goofy like pit Goku from Dragon Ball against a Christmas villain. There’s elements of shock humor to go along with the mostly nerd humor and shorts often get pretty violent for comedic purposes. It’s not a show for everyone, but it’s certainly aided by its brief runtime so when an episode misses the mark it’s usually not around long enough to truly stink up the place.

In 2012 Robot Chicken debuted its ATM Christmas Special, which I assume stands for Ass to Mouth because that’s the sort of humor the show goes for. Even though the show is on Adult Swim, it may have been difficult to actually get that phrase into the episode title and it’s a bit cheeky to make it an acronym anyway.

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Santa is pissed he nearly slept through Christmas.

The special opens in festive fashion with a parody of the old CBS Special logo that leads into a story about Santa (MacFarlane). It seems Santa forgot to schedule a wake-up call as he wakes up late for Christmas. It’s a scramble to the work shop where a ranting Santa takes his anger out on the poor elves. Santa is done as a doll, while most of the elves look like claymation and doll parts or something. The scramble continues to the sleigh and the reindeer are all messed up prompting Santa to fire the elf attendant, who cries, as Santa leaves.

 

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Someone got fired for that one.

From the skies Santa and his assistant chuck presents rather than do the usual infiltration thing. They’re depicted more like bombs as they cause all kinds of destruction, including claiming the life of a poor homeless man. A satellite image from space shows Earth with little tiny explosions dotting the surface. Santa makes it back to the North Pole relieved he pulled it off until he finds a lone present he missed. He vows to make the delivery and races to the home where it apparently belongs. I guess because time’s a factor, he opts to use the front door rather than the chimney, but it’s locked. As Santa pulls and wrestles with the door knob, the scene changed to reveal this is all a nightmare and Santa is at home in bed choking his wife. Some elves race in and use a cattle prod on him to subdue him, causing Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Banks) to declare she hates Christmas.

 

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And whoa this thing got dark pretty quick!

We then smash cut to the real opening credits, which largely depict the short we just watched, but everything is in red. There’s also some clips of shorts still to come as we head into our next skit.

 

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This guy is angry at Jewish people for making him work on Christmas. That’s the joke.

A Chinese man is shown on the phone at a restaurant. He’s talking to his wife, but we only hear his side of the conversation. He’s bemoaning that he can’t come home and celebrate Christmas because a Jewish family is there and is just hanging out after their meal. We can see them at a table in the background. The man then declares he hates Jews, which is apparently the punchline of the skit.

 

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Well isn’t this a nice holiday setting!

We then jump to a living room setting on Christmas. A delighted Christmas tree (Henry Winkler) is busy declaring how lucky it is to have been adopted by this family. It’s a happy, warm, Christmas setting that ends with a little girl hugging the tree. Then we cut to a woman dragging the browning tree out the front door. It is completely unaware of what is about to happen and the woman tells the tree they’re going on vacation. It’s pretty excited and remains so as she leaves it on the curb for the garbage man to collect. As the tree is tossed into the truck, it insists it’s not garbage, but then it sees the father and daughter watching from a window as they close the curtains.

 

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On Robot Chicken, there are no happy endings.

The tree is taken to a toilet paper factory, and several weeks later we see what became of it. It’s toilet paper and sitting on a shelf in a grocery store. The image of the tree on the packaging is capable of talking and narrating the thoughts of the still sentient plant as it openly hopes it mostly gets used for boogers or urine. Then it recognizes something offscreen, and it’s the mom and daughter of the family who threw it away. It’s actually happy to see them, until the mother declares they’re having Indian food for dinner.

 

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Check it out! He had a big foot! Laugh!

We then get a brief skit of some kids looking at the stockings over the fireplace. One is huge, and they declare “No fair,” as the camera pans to reveal it belongs to Big Foot Danny, a kid with a really big foot.

 

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Well, at least he’s not choking her this time.

Back to Santa, who is seated in a lounge chair with an apparent broken leg. Mrs. Claus comes in to give him his Christmas present:  a candy cane (get it?). Santa is excited and he stands up to test it out and, finding it’s an actual oversized candy cane, collapses to the ground as the cane snaps apart. He then scolds the woman for making a cane out of candy and expecting it to work. The skit ends with Santa wondering if he broke his tibia while I worry for the well-being of Mrs. Claus.

 

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I guess Justin Bieber jokes were still funny in 2012. I guess.

In a warmly lit den by the fire decorated for Christmas, Justine Bieber (Lucas Grabeel) prepares to play us a song. He’s joined by Santa on guitar and a snowman on drums. He then rips into the song, which is probably titled “Fuck Christmas” because that’s what he mostly says. It’s an aggressive, angry, tune that gets its point across. The scene ends with two executives watching this unfold. One remarks they should have just stuck with David Cassidy, while the other enthusiastically declares that Bieber is a true artist.

 

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It’s Santa vs Jason Bourne! The fight you never wanted!

We’re then taken to a more desolate location. It’s Jason Bourne, a convincing looking doll, and he turns his head dramatically to spot someone closing in from behind. It’s Santa Claus, and there are no words spoken as Santa pulls a sharpened candy cane from his coat. The two fight, and the choreography is actually pretty intense. Bourne gets the better of the Kringle though, ending the fight by stabbing Santa with his own candy cane.

 

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How did you expect it to end? The guy is beyond elderly!

Santa is then shown laying on the ground coughing up blood. He remarks that Jason is a hard man to find and pulls out a Christmas present. Okay. Bourne takes it as Santa bleeds out and dies and seems to react enthusiastically to receiving a copy of the board game Parcheesi.

 

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Hey kid, I know how you feel as I had the same reaction to this joke.

A quick skit of a Lego family at Christmas runs. The kid seems unhappy to have received another block for Christmas and reacts with mock enthusiasm. That’s it.

 

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What are you supposed to get a ninja for Christmas? Robot Chicken seeks to answer that very question.

At G.I. Joe headquarters, some of the Joes are sitting around trying to figure out what to get Snake Eyes for Christmas. These appear to be actual toys from the toy line. They don’t know what to get him because he never tells them what he wants (he’s mute, in case you were unaware) and we see a cut-away to last Christmas when they just gave him a coffee mug that says “I Heart Ninjas.”

 

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Storm Shadow has never looked better.

Scarlett (Banks) declares she knows what Snake Eyes really wants, and we cut to the Joes surrounding a building in a snowy environment. They enter and it’s revealed to be the home of Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes’ rival. He’s in his usual white ninja suit, but also is sporting a pink bath robe. The Joes attack, but they get their asses handed to them.

 

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The question remains unanswered.

On Christmas morning, Duke (Skeet Ulrich) approaches a seated Snake Eyes and tosses his present at him. It’s another mug. Meanwhile, we can see the rest of the Joes have all been beaten up pretty bad and look rather miserable. Snake Eyes, even though he’s wearing a mask, seems perplexed by the hostile treatment.

 

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Nothing says “Christmas” quite like Kano.

We’re whisked away to a store where a woman is in the embarrassing position of having her credit card declined. The clerk can’t do anything about it as she bemoans how tough life has been for her and her two boys since their father passed away. The man behind her overhears the clerk say her name, Mrs. Cage, and it causes him to remember. The man is Kano, of Mortal Kombat fame, and a thought bubble appears over his head showing him rip the heart out of Johnny Cage post match.

 

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I knew he was an asshole the moment I first laid eyes on him!

Feeling guilty, Kano helps the woman to her car and accepts an offer to join them for Christmas dinner. At the Cage residence, he uses his somersault maneuver to hang Christmas lights, and when saying “Grace,” he puts on a yamaka as a joke and everyone has a good laugh. As he helps Mrs. Cage put the kids to bed, he confesses he can’t hide from her anymore. He apologizes for what happened to Johnny and gives the widow a gift. She opens the box and is confused. Kano claims it’s Johnny’s heart, but Mrs. Cage informs him it’s not a heart. We then smash cut to Johnny Cage on a beach in a tropical environment relaying how Kano ripped out his appendix by mistake to a group of bikini-clad women. He then grabs one and the skit ends before the orgy can commence.

 

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Possibly Robot Chicken’s most popular character is The Nerd.

In our next sketch it’s Christmas morning at The Nerd’s (Green) home. He awakens excitedly in a festive red onesie and races downstairs only to find that Christmas has been stolen. His parents give him the bad news, but he takes it fairly well. That is until his mom reveals during “Pretend Christmas” what the thief made off with:  a 1985 AFA Graded Snake Eyes action figure.

 

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I like where this is going…

Despondent, The Nerd takes to the streets to find the whole neighborhood has been victimized. He finds a group of people forming a circle and one man explains it’s a vengeance circle as they’re asking The Spirit of Vengeance to violently punish the asshole who stole their stuff. He’s then told by another that he’s mistaken and this is the wrong circle, the vengeance one is nearby. This forces things to click inside The Nerd’s brain. What Christmas story involves a burglary followed by the victims holding hands and singing? He then turns around to gaze at a nearby mountain where the thief is still in the process of getting away!

 

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When you’re down and out and in need of encouragement, look to Larry Hama.

The Nerd heads off after him, and as he climbs the mountain he bemoans his choice in clothing. As he ponders giving up, he looks to Snake Eyes for help. Since Snake Eyes is mute, he doesn’t offer anything encouraging when he appears in a cloud above The Nerd’s head. Larry Hama appears though in a similar vision to encourage him to continue. The line he feeds The Nerd is corny and unoriginal and The Nerd calls him out on it. In a bit of self-deprecation, Hama remarks how he spent his career writing comics that were essentially toy commercials and is able to spur The Nerd along by threatening to read him an excerpt from his unfinished novel.

 

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He really is a stupid looking Grinch.

The Nerd makes it to the summit where he confronts the thief – The Grinch! He moans when he sees it’s not even the good Grinch from the cartoon, but the Jim Carrey Grinch. Grinch (Green) tells him it doesn’t matter, but then The Nerd uses his anger over the film ruining the “greatest cartoon ever” to motivate him to kill this Grinch. Declaring he doesn’t care about his presents, he simply kicks the sleigh (with Grinch in it) off the mountain. He then turns around to see Max whom he refers to him as the little Stockholm Syndrome dog. Max has something for The Nerd, his precious Snake Eyes toy! Only now it has teeth marks which are sure to affect the grading.

 

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And now he’s dead and likely about to get raped.

Back at street level, one of the neighborhood men drags the Grinch’s corpse over and happily displays it. The same man from earlier rejoices that The Spirit of Vengeance answered their prayers. Another man then questions if The Spirit of Vengeance would like them to rape the corpse. The first man declares why not? – it’s Christmas! And that’s how our special ends; with a rape joke.

 

Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special is certainly a sight to behold. The animation is pretty great, even when the source “puppets” are old G.I. Joe toys. I like the little through-lines with reappearing Santa throughout and the G.I. Joe sketch being sort of referenced further in the finale. The big Grinch parody was saved for last and it feels like the right spot for it. I like the self-realization of The Nerd becoming aware that he’s in a Christmas special, and even though internet nerd anger is pretty stupid, I did take some joy in this character hating on the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard Grinch while praising the superior Chuck Jones cartoon.

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There’s a tendency of the show to rely on shock humor, like a homeless guy getting decapitated by a Christmas present, but when that’s your thing it’s hard to remain shocking.

Some of the other stuff hasn’t aged super well. The “I Hate Jews” sketch, in particular, doesn’t play so well. It’s brushed off because a lot of the folks involved with this show are Jewish, and I suppose someone in a similar situation could empathize to a point, but it still felt like poor taste and just shock humor. And rape jokes are just kind of “meh” at this point. It’s another line that’s supposed to create a laugh out of shock, but the show is often so crass that it loses the ability to be shocking. I expected those people to want to desecrate the corpse of The Grinch thus negating the punch of the remark.

 

This special is loaded with guest stars who all do a pretty nice job. MacFarlane is involved with the show so often that it hardly feels right to even consider him a guest star at this point. Elizabeth Banks plays a few characters, and I was surprised to hear the voice of Henry Winkler. Larry Hama’s part isn’t acted all that well, and it was clearly shot on the cheap (maybe even wth a cell phone or something), but his willingness to basically poke fun at his own career helped to sell the moment.

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Henry Winkler’s Christmas tree is the type of character the show’s dark blend of humor works best with. Although the sketch still ended with a poop joke.

The stuff with Santa was mostly enjoyable, though the Bourne sketch wasn’t particularly funny (even though it looked great). I’m not much of a fan of G.I. Joe so that sketch fell a little flat for me. I did find the Mortal Kombat one pretty amusing, if a tad predictable, and the Christmas Tree was tragically funny as well. Overall, there were some laughs found in this tidy little Christmas special and they mostly outweigh the duds. It doesn’t stick around long enough to suck, and by positioning the best short at the end it actually does leave you wanting more. Had it ended on G.I. Joe or the stupid Bieber song I probably would feel different.

If you want to catch this special this year just keep an eye out on Adult Swim. They’re practically guaranteed to air this and the many other Robot Chicken Christmas episodes at some point this month, often even reserving some for Christmas Eve.

 


Dec. 22 – Johnny Bravo: ‘Twas the Night

TwasTheNight-JBThis thing kicked off this year with the What A Cartoon! original George & Junior’s Christmas Spectacular. The comedic bear duo failed to make a lasting impression and faded away from sight. Johnny Bravo, on the other hand, debuted via the same show, but to a much warmer reception earning him his own series. The character was created by Van Partible and some guy named Seth MacFarlane was a writer for the show. Johnny Bravo was essentially a modern guy with the personality of a 50s greaser who talked like Elvis. He wants to help the ladies and be kind of a stereotypical macho man. I guess he’s kind of like Uncle Jesse from Full House, except he thinks he’s as strong as a super hero and probably not as bright as the frontman for the Rippers. It honestly wasn’t a character that resonated with me right off the bat. I guess I just preferred child protagonists or animals in my cartoons, but it was a success and I think it was voted the #2 cartoon of the year by viewers of the What A Cartoon! show, behind only Dexter’s Laboratory which also got its own series.

“‘Twas the Night” is a cartoon from the show’s fifth episode. It, for some reason, premiered on August 4th, 1997 as the third segment in the half hour show. Why they chose to a premiere a Christmas episode in August is possibly due to many delays the show supposedly had in production. It’s possible it was meant to air closer to Christmas, or maybe even earlier for Cartoon Network’s then annual Christmas in July, but was ready when others were not. Or maybe they just didn’t care, since the broadcast lists online don’t appear to contain many gaps during the first season.

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I can’t tell if Johnny is supposed to be sitting on the roof or standing awkwardly.

The episode opens on a scenic look of a bridge and a city. There’s a narrator spinning a rendition of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” but with different words, and in a familiar voice. It’s Adam West! Oh, how we miss you Adam. He would guest star as himself on a later episode. The scene takes us to Johnny’s house where he’s preparing for bed and needs to silence his mama’s snoring. While laying in bed he hears a sound outside, he heads for the roof and spies a burglar. No, Johnny! It’s Santa! We cry out, but the thick-headed blond can’t hear us through the television and takes the poor bastard out. Santa has a busted arm as a result, and he’s pretty ticked, but also understanding, since he knows Johnny is an idiot. That and this Santa only has six reindeer, so Johnny was justified in thinking he was a fake. The problem is now he can’t fulfill his obligation to the children of the world, so Johnny is going to have to take his place.

Johnny hopes for cash and chicks in return for doing Santa’s job, but Santa threatens him with violence so he puts on the coat and the hat and takes off through the night. He screws up the names of the reindeer, then questions where the freak with the red nose is. We get a sort-of cut-away depicting laser wielding bad guys that look like Cobra rejects doing battle with a laser-nosed reindeer at the North Pole. The blasts even reach Johnny in the sky, but he pays them no mind. He whips out the list of gifts and it contains nothing but Senators all scheduled to receive coal. Johnny Bravo getting political! Their names are also almost all references to Hanna-Barbera and Warner properties so it’s worth a pause or two to read them. One senator is actually receiving a gift:  Senator Puffnstuff.

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At least the suit fits.

Johnny sets to delivering the gifts. The mayor is the first to receive his, new underwear, and he prances around happily in his living-room until his wife knocks him out with a rolling pin, “You promised me no cavorting!” He next visits little Suzie and squeezes down her chimney. He eats the cookies and drinks the milk while little Suzie is sleeping peacefully in an easy chair, “She’s kind of cute when her mouth isn’t flapping.” He then visits Jungle Boy in the jungle and delivers a new loin cloth and makeup for the gorilla girls. The gorilla king gets coal and Johnny calls him Magilla, and he’s right to take that as an insult. He then visits a hibernating Cronos the bear and gives him an alarm clock, which goes off almost immediately forcing Johnny to scramble out fast. Then he pops in on Scooby-Doo and gives him a slip of paper for speech therapy with Cindy Brady. I always thought he spoke pretty well considering he’s a dog and all.

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And he can also squeeze down a chimney. 

Johnny continues on through the night, and has a near miss with a space shuttle that’s woefully animated as it kind of bends in flight. He leaves gifts for a sleeping pair of twins, Tim and Tom. He’s depicted going all over the world causing him to question how Santa stays fat considering the work is hard. I guess working hard for one night can’t make up for all of the milk cookies throughout the year, Johnny. As Johnny gets to the bottom of the list he realizes he has one gift left to deliver:  Bunny Bravo, also known as mama. The problem is he has no gifts left – he must have delivered her gift to the wrong house. We then cut back to the mayor and his wife finding some woman’s garment and she accuses him of cavorting with some woman named Bunny. He tries to tell her he’s not, but gets another rolling pin to the noggin for his honesty. She’s rather abusive.

Johnny returns home, sad to not have a gift for his precious mama. As he sits sheepishly on the roof, he hears his mother cry out with joy from inside the house. He dives down the chimney and sees she’s sporting a new diamond ring. It says it’s from Santa, but she thinks it’s from Johnny. What a weird thing to give your mama. There’s also another gift and it’s for Johnny – a new pair of boxing gloves and mouthpiece. As Johnny admires his gift, Santa appears in the window to angrily remind him he didn’t forget how the night began, “Merry Christmas, you pinhead. Round two is next year!”

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These Hanna-Barbera folks love cameos.

“‘Twas the Night” is a pretty simple little cartoon short that goes the predictable route of casting its protagonist as Santa. Really, that feels like the number 3 Christmas cartoon cliche at this point behind parodies/adaptations of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. The narration is carried throughout the short and Adam West delivers all of his lines with great timing. He sounds sincere, even when he’s saying something funny, “And mama was sleeping, you can tell by the snoring. After four times today, Jimmy Stewart gets boring,” and It’s a Wonderful Life’s title card is depicted on the television set to complete the joke. Because of the narration, Johnny is sort of just there and he gets in a line every so often, but aside from the “Magilla” comment I didn’t find them memorable. I did like how Santa was depicted as professional and understanding of what happened. He can’t just blow-up at Johnny because he needs to focus on the task at hand, but he’s also pretty pissed and he isn’t just going to forget that Johnny Bravo broke his arm on Christmas. The animation is kind of cheap and minimalist. Johnny moves with quick actions that don’t require a lot of frames, but that’s a stylistic choice. The backgrounds though are quite static and droll. The best I can say for the show is it’s bright and colorful, and the Rudolph bit was funny.

If you like Johnny Bravo then you probably like this short well enough, even if it feels like a novelty due to the inserting of the poem. I love Adam West, so I’m inclined to at least give this one a passing grade. It may show up on Boomerang this year, but it also may not. I’d be surprised if Cartoon Network bothered to air it as they don’t do much with their legacy programs. Season one was released on DVD in 2010, and so far it’s the only season to receive a Region 1 release on DVD and it’s actually still easily obtainable so I guess they still print the things. For whatever reason, probably poor sales of season one, none of the other seasons have been released or even scheduled for release. If you like Johnny Bravo then you probably already have it at this point, and if you don’t well then I guess you stopped reading about a thousand words ago.

 


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